UPDATE: Noblesville announces investigation into hazardous chemical spills at ITM, ITM responds

(Photo courtesy of the City of Noblesville)
(Photo courtesy of the City of Noblesville)

The City of Noblesville is investigating handling of hazardous chemicals at the Indiana Transportation Museum, located within the city’s Forest Park at 701 Cicero Rd.

The city said it, along with the Noblesville Parks and Recreation Board have notified the ITM that it is in “serious default” under the terms of its lease of the grounds within Forest Park due to its “unlawful handling of hazardous chemicals” and has requested the ITM to begin remediation procedures. Those procedures, to be completed within 60 days, include the following: to develop a plan within 90 days for permanent removal of the contamination, to provide contact information for the licensed environmental firm or individual ITM will hire to supervise this work, and to identify the location where the materials will be properly disposed of.

“Despite numerous efforts over the years to encourage ITM to address some housekeeping concerns they have allowed within their property, the Parks Board had no idea what hazardous conditions existed on the other side of the fence,” Scott Noel, president of the Noblesville Parks and Recreation board of directors, stated in a press release. “We are disappointed that (the) ITM has violated the terms of its lease with the Parks Board and (has allowed) their carelessness to endanger one of the greatest assets in the City of Noblesville – Forest Park.”

However, in a statement issued May 31, the ITM’s board chair, John McNichols, said the city isn’t telling the full story.

“The pronouncement by the City of Noblesville and the Noblesville Parks Department about alleged environmental issues at the Indiana Transportation Museum site comes to us as a complete surprise,” McNichols stated. “It is significant that Mayor Ditslear’s office cancelled a meeting scheduled for this morning (Wednesday, May 31) with new ITM leaders where this could have been discussed and resolved. We were not aware of their concerns until the city’s news release, and we have not been contacted by city officials.”

Earlier this year, Hamilton County, the City of Noblesville and City of Fishers announced plans to completely remove the Nickel Plate Rail Line’s tracks to develop a trail along the corridor.

“This is another example of local political leaders’ unwillingness to work with the ITM and its new leadership to resolve differences,” McNichols stated. “This latest release is simply another trumped-up charge to reduce the significant public outcry against the cities of Fishers and Noblesville to rip up the rails.”

The city said the investigation at Forest Park began after the City of Noblesville’s MS4 program manager recently performed an inspection of the outside maintenance and storage area leased to ITM. This inspection was done in response to a tip from the a local television network’s investigative news team, which expressed concerns that the ITM’s storage of some materials and equipment may be hazardous to the environment.

The city says the initial inspection found serious issues with outside storage of fluids and other items that could pose a risk, including container leakage and ground stains of oils, grease, diesel fuel and other products and chemicals used for the maintenance of the ITM’s former railroad operations, which it has leased since the 1990s.

As a result, the city says it voluntarily notified the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management to request a more comprehensive inspection. While no imminent threats were apparent to the city’s inspector, an independent environmental firm also was hired by the city to provide oversight and guidance.

“We look forward to working closely with IDEM so they can complete a much more thorough inspection of the site and help evaluate (the) ITM’s plans for remediation,” Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear stated in a press release. “We will do everything we can to ensure local taxpayers do not have to pay for the clean-up effort caused by the ITM due to its careless practices.”

IDEM is expected to inspect the grounds sometime this week. The city also said it plans to allow the ITM to continue its normal business operations but that it must comply with the city’s request for containment and remediation.

“The ITM has been in Forest Park since 1990. The site is a maintenance facility for vintage locomotives and other railroad historic artifacts. Museum maintenance personnel store and handle fuels and lube oils in the maintenance and operation of equipment,” McNichols stated. “There are no known violations on the park property. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no violations or complaints registered with IDEM. (The) ITM pledges full cooperation with IDEM and their contractors to resolve any issues. Our new ITM management and staff will be addressing possible ground contamination issues with Hamilton County and IDEM to establish a plan to resolve any issues.”